What is Makeup Primer? And Do I Need it?

The Scoop on Eyeshadow, Foundation and Mascara Primers


Makeup primers are hot, hot, hot these days. Just like you prime a wall before you paint it, you can prime your eyes, face, eyelashes, and lips before you apply makeup. Primers are used under eyeshadow, foundation, lipstick, mascara and even nail polish to help keep your makeup in place for hours. They ease the application of the makeup and are meant to create a barrier between the product and skin.

Their popularity is not waning, primer sales have increased significantly in the past few years. The New York Times reported US sales jumped 73 percent in the years between 2006 and 2011. That's a lot of primer sales.

So should you jump on the primer bandwagon? I'll give you the scoop on what primers are worth the money, what types of primers work best and the actual products I love the most. Let's start with eyeshadow primers, my favorite.

Eyeshadow Primers

I use eyeshadow primers. I smooth on Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion (buy it from Sephora) on days when I know I need my eyeshadow to stay in place and the eyeshadow stays in place for literally hours. If I don't use the primer, the shadow inevitably slides into my lid crease and sits there in a greasy mass until I wipe it off at the end of the day.

I vouch for the stuff. It has helped my shadow stay put through gym workouts, thunderstorms and nights when I am too tired to remove my eye makeup.

I first started using shadow primer back in 2004, way before it became popular. But I discovered Urban Decay's brilliance for myself when I bought it in 2008. That week, two men complimented me on my eye shadow. Amazing. That had never happened before. I still use Urban Decay when I want my eyeshadow to last all day.

Mascara Primers

My second favorite primer is mascara primer. I recommend blinc Lash Primer (buy it from Amazon) before I apply my favorite mascara, Lancome's Hypnose mascara. I feel the primer preps my lashes for the mascara making my lashes more lush and fabulous.

Foundation Primers

If you don't want the added step of a primer to your beauty routine, you can slather on moisturizer before makeup application, says Linda Wells, Allure's beauty editor, in her book "Confessions of a Beauty Editor" (buy it from Amazon). But makeup artists swear primers go one step further than moisturizers, they help your makeup stay on longer and some help even out your skin tone.

Other benefits of foundation primers, according to makeup artist Laura Mercier, include:

  1. They allow foundation to "stay put" in hot weather.
  2. Help prevent skin from absorbing talc and pigment from your foundation as well as preventing talc from drawing oil from the skin.
  3. They contain botanicals such as lavender, orange, jasmine, rose, geranium, grape, kiwi, and aloe extracts to soothe and refresh the skin.

My favorite foundation primer is made by Laura Mercier. I recommend the regular primer for oily skin (buy it from Amazon) and the hydrating version for normal to dry skin (buy it from Amazon).

I put it on every time I use Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer. It's supposed to fill in my pores and help make the tinted moisturizer go on more smoothly and I think it works.

Nail & Lip Primers

With all the rage around primers, makeup brands are coming up with nail and lip primers. I haven't tried these yet, but they are meant to work in the same way the other primers do: by keeping the lipstick and nail polish in place longer.

Deborah Lippmann has a $14 nail primer as part of her collection, according to the New York Times. It's meant to be applied under the base coat. The Times reports Lippmann's primer "will help polish adhere more evenly, stay on longer and dry faster." You can buy it from Amazon.com.

Most of the nail primers available today are meant to protect the nails when acrylic nails (fake nails) are applied.